Trends on Tuesday: Native App Lessons from the CrowdSource Mobile Testing Program

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The more you test, the more you know.

We recently highlighted lessons learned from the CrowdSource Mobile Testing Program, discussed the mobile emulator dilemma that many agencies face, and today we’re back with a few insights on native app testing.

The Federal CrowdSource Mobile Testing Program yields a rich set of participant feedback that helps individual app creators improve their product. While the program primarily tests mobile websites created by federal agencies, the team tested early prototypes of the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Normandy App and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s CrowdMag app as a pilot. We offer the following lessons to inform future app developers in any corner of the federal government.

For Content, Less is More

Great apps generally do one thing really well. However, we learned from testing that content brevity is also the key to successful native apps. Too much content can frustrate users and create navigation issues.

  • Eliminate duplicative options for displaying content. During the testing of one application, participants could choose from three different ways to display a single piece of information. Feedback suggested that one choice was sufficient, and having three made the app less intuitive and more tricky to navigate.
  • Users expect concise content, and “endless scrolling” may cause you to lose users.

Don’t Get Lost in Navigation

Users want to quickly access the information they need. We learned from our native apps that navigation should be clear and familiar to users.

  • During one test, users did not know they could swipe a menu at the bottom of the app to view more information and options. App developers should use indicators or buttons that are common on app interfaces and will be easily understood by users.
  • One app’s “back” button led users to the top of the previous page. Users reported that they expected to be taken to the exact place on the page they had left.

A Lesson on Testing Native Apps

The testing was done as a pilot to see if crowdsource mobile testing could work on native applications. What we learned is that it can be done, but there are challenges due to the complexity of testers downloading native applications.

If you plan to test a native app prototype, here are some specific issues we encountered that you may experience:

  • Platforms may limit the number of test devices you may use, which limits your testing pool and feedback.
  • For those who have access, downloading the app prototype can prove challenging. We had a few testers who were granted access numerous times but were never able to download the complete app.
  • Once installed, different operating systems behave differently and are more unpredictable than browser applications that display mobile websites.
  • If you update an app prototype during testing, you have to re download the latest version.

Testing your native app is a critical part of the development process. Crowdsourced testing is a useful way to receive user feedback, and we hope the comments from our previous cycles will inform future federal development efforts.

In addition to lessons learned from native app testing, DigitalGov has also featured lessons learned from testing mobile-friendly federal websites. Do you have any other lessons learned from mobile app testing? Share them in the comments below. If you have an application you need tested, or would you like to be a tester, visit the CrowdSource Mobile Testing Program page for more information about this free service.

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